Author A.E. Decker stops by to chat today! Check out her take on Daleks, writing and her book The Meddler’s of Moonshine!
A.E. Decker hails from Pennsylvania. A former doll-maker and ESL tutor, she earned a master’s degree in history, where she developed a love of turning old stories upside-down to see what fell out of them.
This led in turn to the writing of her YA novel, The Falling of the Moon. A graduate of Odyssey 2011, her short fiction has appeared in such venues as Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Fireside Magazine, and in World Weaver Press’s own Specter Spectacular.
Like all writers, she is owned by three cats. Come visit her, her cats, and her fur Daleks at wordsmeetworld.com.
I write surrounded by Daleks, the iconic nemesis of Doctor Who. There are sixteen on my desk alone, and another dozen watching from various shelves in my room. There’s a desktop patrol Dalek who, when turned on, roams about yelling “Exterminate!” and scaring my cats. To my right sits a Dalek handcrafted from scrap metal; a birthday gift bought from an Etsy artist. Occasionally, when I’m pondering the wording of a sentence, I like to pick him up and rub my thumb over his bumps.
But A. E., I can hear you say—and I can hear you say it because many other people have—why Daleks? What is it you find so endearing about these genocidal alien pepperpots?
To which I reply “Eh, don’t know.” Which never satisfies anyone, so I have to go deeper. So here’s my thought-out reply.
True, if the Daleks actually existed as they do on Doctor Who, they’d be horrible. More
to the point, we’d likely all be dead. But as they actually exist, as the fictional nemesis of a fictional character on a popular and long-running television series, they’re quite delightful. There’s every possibility that if the show’s creators hadn’t introduced them in The Mutants, which was only the second serial of Doctor Who, the entire series would’ve been cancelled. Now, you may not be a Whovian, but if you consider even for a minute, I think you’ll conclude with me that that would’ve been quite the shame.
For over fifty years, Doctor Who has provided entertainment and thought-provoking—occasionally debate-provoking—conversation for its fans. Some people wonder at the worth of pop culture, but to them I’d reply that it provides us with something priceless—a means to connect. I’ve seen people’s eyes light up when they spot the 3D printed Dalek I wear around my neck. I once received a free cookie at a bakery simply because the owner loved my Dalek shirt. (Lesson of the day: always wear your Dalek shirt.) Strangers can turn friends in an instant when they realize they share the love of a particular book, movie, or television series. And that’s not even going into the fact that on a more pragmatic level, Doctor Who has provided decades of work for various actors, film crew, writers, and merchandisers.
So, I claim that despite their xenophobic tendencies, Daleks are a force for good. And what’s even more important to me as a writer is this:
Daleks are ridiculous.
They’re deformed squid encased in personal, lump-encrusted tanks. They’re trying to conquer the universe armed with a plumber’s helper on one side and an egg beater on the other. They screech like angry toddlers, and their ears, or whatever those things on their domes are, light up while they’re doing it. It’s amazing the producers okayed them in the first place, and astonishing they weren’t laughed off the screen the instant they appeared.
And yet, they’re perfect. Their appeal is proven by an audience that stretches five decades. They’re perfect because there’s nothing quite like them. They’re perfect because someone dared to take a concept that was ridiculous, yet all its own, and put it on the screen. That kind of audacity, that willingness to fail, is something I feel we need to strive for as writers.
There are a lot of books out there that will tell you how to write. They will show you how to construct a beautiful sentence and give you exercises to practice your craft. Learning technique is undeniably useful, but on its own, it’s sterile. Dreams don’t happen by textbook. To create something that can turn strangers into instant friends, you have to be willing to go deep inside yourself and bring forth something fresh, personal, and different. It’s scary. But to fly, one risks
So, here’s to all the outlandish ideas out there, the ones wibbly-wobbling in the backs of brains, or mouldering in desks deep in dusty drawers. Perhaps it’s time to take yours out, type it up, and see if it puts a smile on someone’s face. Perhaps people will shake their heads. Some might decide you’re a little odd.
But just possibly, you’ll write a Dalek.
Something is rotten in the town of Widget, and Rags-n-Bones knows it’s all his fault. Ever since he snitched that avocado from Miss Ascot’s pack, things have been going wrong. Armed with a handful of memories he never realized he had, Rags-n-Bones searches for a way to put right whatever he did to Widget in the past. If only he knew what it was! Unfortunately, the only person who seems to have answers is a half-mad youth that only Rags can see.
Widget is also suffering from a ghost infestation that has the townsfolk almost as spooked of outsiders as they are of actual spooks. While Rags-n-Bones seeks answers in the past, Ascot offers the town leaders her service as an exorcist, only to be handed an ultimatum: banish the ghosts or be banished herself!
Who’s meddling with Widget? To catch the culprit, Ascot and Rags-n-Bones must match wits with a shifty sorcerer, a prissy ex-governess, and a troublingly attractive captain before the town consigns itself to the graveyard of history.
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There was a hand in the forest, and it held an avocado.
“Miss Ascot bought it for me,” said Rags-n-Bones, clutching it to his chest as he ran. The dead leaves crunched softly underfoot, thick and bouncy as a crispy cloud. “That means it’s not stealing.”
On his shoulder, Nipper squeaked. Being a rat, Nipper was hazy on the concept of “stealing.” Generally, he felt if you could get something in your mouth, it was yours.
Rags-n-Bones wished he were a rat. It would make dealing with guilt much easier. I should never have rummaged through Miss Ascot’s pack, he thought, ducking around a birch. His thumb caressed the avocado’s soft, pebbly skin. If I’d waited, she, or the Captain, or Sir Dmitri, or the Mighty Terror from the Deepest Shadows would’ve awakened and given it to me. He leaped over a log, mouth watering in anticipation of the avocado’s rich, buttery flavor. I should go back right now and—
Squeak? Nipper stuck his nose in Rags-n-Bones’ ear impatiently.
Rags-n-Bones gave up. He’d take whatever punishment arrived later. Right now, the torment of not eating the avocado was too great to bear. “There’s a grove up ahead,” he replied. “Around that cone-shaped boulder. We’ll eat it there.” Avocados required privacy for proper consumption.
How could you possibly know there’s a grove ahead? asked a small part of his brain not drunk on avocado-lust. You’ve never been here before.
He shrugged. Ahead just seemed like a convenient place for a grove. A small circle of beech trees, with an old oak smack in the center, its gnarled, moss-covered roots gripping the hummock it sat atop like an old man clutching a tea cake.
A foot skidded out from under him as he rounded the boulder, kicking up a trail of wet leaves and the smell of tannin. That’s a lot of detail for a mere hunch. Why, you can visualize the oak, can’t you? That thick, knobby trunk. Those bare, crooked branches. And carved into the bark—
Six feet into the grove, Rags-n-Bones stumbled to a halt and stared vacantly at a patch of earth. Something was very wrong. Was he being watched?
He whimpered. He was being watched. A disapproving stare pressed almost tangibly on the top of his bowed head. Branches swayed creakily overhead. He watched the wind skitter a fallen acorn across the carpet of leaves.
Squeak? Nipper scrabbled at his cheek.
I have to do it. Slowly, Rags-n-Bones lifted his gaze to meet the watcher’s.
The avocado hit the leaves with a soft crunch as his fingers abruptly slackened. Punishment had arrived sooner than expected.